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Chile to contest UN court’s jurisdiction in dispute with Bolivia over sea access

Evo Morales’ government brought longstanding row before International Court of Justice last year

Michelle Bachelet during a speech in Washington.
Michelle Bachelet during a speech in Washington.EFE

Chile will contest the power of the United Nations International Court of Justice (ICJ) to decide on a territorial dispute with neighboring Bolivia over access to the Pacific Ocean.

After consulting with former presidents, members of parliament and leaders of all political parties, Chilean president Michelle Bachelet announced her government’s decision to challenge the court’s jurisdiction.

“At this important moment, I know I have the support and unity of my fellow Chileans,” she said in a statement made in the Palacio de La Moneda, the seat of government. “National interests are at stake, and we will know how to defend them with all the strength, resolve and earnestness that this challenge requires.”

Chile has granted Bolivia the widest possible right of commercial transit across its territory and ports on the Pacific

In April 2013, Bolivia filed a complaint against Chile over the longstanding issue of a corridor to the ocean. The government in La Paz estimates that it lost 400 kilometers of coastline and 129,000 square kilometers of land after the War of the Pacific (1879-1883), when Bolivian forces battled the Chilean army.

But the government of Santiago says there is nothing more to settle after both sides signed the Treaty of Peace and Friendship in 1904.

In a four-minute address, Bachelet said the treaty had “been respected and implemented by both States for over a century, and Chile has granted Bolivia the widest possible right of commercial transit across its territory and ports on the Pacific.”

Bachelet, a Socialist leader who worked for the UN in between her two terms in office, said that one of the guiding principles of Chile’s foreign policy was “the unyielding defense of our territorial integrity and our national interests, which coincide with essential principles of international law and relations among states, including the inviolability of treaties and the stability of borders.”

On April 24, 2013, Bolivia asked the ICJ to declare that Chile has the obligation to negotiate an agreement to give the former sovereign access to the sea. On April 15 of this year, the government of Evo Morales filed the written statement, giving Chile three months to raise a preliminary objection to The Hague’s jurisdiction in the case. Bachelet said the objection would be filed before the deadline of July 15.

“Relations between Chile and Bolivia must be built on permanent principles and values, within a framework of peaceful neighborly coexistence and on the inalienable respect for international law.”

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